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Emigration from Macedonia: 1990 to 2017

By Tuesday July 17th, 2018Announcements

534,720 people from Macedonia are living overseas according to the latest UN report on migrant stock. Emigration has a long history in Macedonia and continues to be important. However, the pattern of emigration has changed significantly since independence, and this provides policy lessons and opportunities for Macedonia and its diaspora.

In 1990 the top five destinations for emigrants from Macedonia were: France, Italy, Hungary, Australia, and Turkey. However, since independence the number of emigrants to Turkey has skyrocketed overtaking all other destinations in terms of total stock (graph 1). Conversely, the emigrants in France and Hungary either returned or went elsewhere since independence.

The reason for the rise in the importance of Turkey as a destination is unclear, however, the diaspora policies of Turkey during the 1990s and 2000s may have played a part. In the 1990s Turkeys began an active policy of working with their diaspora around the world, building official links with diaspora communities. In 2012 Turkey established the Office for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB). During this period, Turkey also implemented the ‘Blue Card’, which gives citizenship-style rights for immigrants of Turkish origin[1]. The Blue Card makes it easier for the Turkish diaspora to return and invest in Turkey.

Turkey’s strong economic growth and EU related reforms likely also played a big part in attracting immigrants. From 2002 to 2007, Turkish GDP growth averaged 7.1 per cent per year[2].

Turkey’s diaspora policies provide an example for Macedonia and its own diaspora. Macedonia could strengthen contact with the diaspora through new institutions that played a more active role in diaspora life. Macedonia could also implement its own version of the ‘Blue Card’ making it easier for the diaspora to invest and work in Macedonia. Similar ‘cards’ are used by several countries including Poland[3], India[4], and Ethiopia[5].

Macedonia should also embrace reforms connected to EU ascension and use this as a selling point for the diaspora and FDI. However, above all, Macedonia should remember that there is no substitute for economic growth. Sustained economic growth and increasing living standards would likely have the strongest impact in attracting diaspora migration and investment. The new government needs to ensure a strong rebound after recent flat results.

The rise in emigrants to Turkey also provides an opportunity for companies in Macedonia. These emigrants could help foster exports and investment between the two countries. Graph 2 below shows that exports from Macedonia to Turkey have risen noticeably since 2002 (below). In March, Prime Minister Zaev talked to the Macedonian-Turkish Chamber of Commerce encouraging them to help increase Turkish investment in Macedonia[6].

Article by Brendan Filipovski, Research Manager


[1] De Bel-Air, F, (2016), ‘Migration Profile: Turkey’, Policy Brief, December 2016, Migration Policy Center at the European University

[2] UN World Development Indicators, World’s biggest diasporas.

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